Thursday, September 20, 2012

LAB's Model Vunerable Road Users Statute: Must some victims be more worthy than others?

While I enthusiastically applaud the LAB for establishing a legal affairs committee and enthusiastically thank them for writing a model law to address injuries to cyclists, motorcyclists, and others, I do have some concerns with the bill in its present form.

The law muddies the waters of justice by creating preferential classes of victims. A Prius driver injured by a badly driven SuperDuty is just as worthy of justice as a bicyclist hit by a badly driven Prius. What is gained by defining some road users as more worthy of justice than others?

By defining classes of victims, this bill is sure to encounter more resistance than one that defines the crime as injuring another person through the willfully careless operation of a vehicle. Any victim by any vehicle.

HB 12, which the cycling and motorcycling community originally had introduced two years ago in New Mexico is victim-neutral. While it is far from perfect and has itself encountered resistance in the Senate Judiciary Committee, I prefer such an approach which has also been supported by the NM motorcyclists. They tend to be more conservative and libertarian than the average cyclist, based on my own small, unrepresentative, and unscientific sampling.

Finally, it always worries me to self-define as a vulnerable user. We must beware of the law of unintended consequences: perhaps instead of holding drivers accountable for their mistakes, Government will protect us from ourselves with more restrictions on bicycling. Beware of what you wish for.

Having said all that, I again applaud the LAB for establishing this committee and for drafting a model bill. I am sure that this bill was itself a case of political sausage being made, based on a conversation with one of the committee members. I hope this is a work in progress.

My advice to readers, assuming there are any, is to look carefully at the local political landscape before offering a draft of an enhanced penalty/vulnerable user protection bill to a pair of legislators (one from each house, perhaps one from each party), consider whether it has the horsepower to be passed, what its unintended consequences might be, and ask quietly who might get heartburn over specific parts of the text.


Steve A said...

I'm conflicted about laws creating different classes of victims (except for things like crimes against children and such) rather than for the perps.

Walter Enomoto said...

Aloha Khal,
Just wanted to let you know Hawaii passed an Vulnerable Road User Law the last legislative session on its first go-around.

HBL and the Maui Bicycle Alliance worked hard on this along with others joining in before and during the legislative session.

The issue you bring up re: special classes did come up in discussion. Some involved were strongly against this aspect however we have many laws that work to protect certain classes such as seniors, children, disabled, etc.

Will this law help? It will be interesting to see as we should see it used by prosecutors soon..


Khal said...

Aloha, Walter

That issue has also come up with hate crime laws. I recall the discussion and it seemed Ben Cayetano and I were the only two Dems in Hawaii who had heartburn over that issue!

Hope all is well with you and Aloha to HBL and MBA. I look forward to see how that law works out.